One of my kids received a new alarm clock for Christmas…the kind that starts out really soft, then gradually gets louder and louder until you finally hear it and wake up. It’s kind of nice in that it doesn’t startle you out of sleep! Along those same lines, when I have to get up earlier than everyone else, I’ll choose a song from my phone alarm that begins softly, too, so as to not wake up the whole house. On the other hand, if I’m at a hotel and have to get up early, I’ll pick something loud that just kicks me out of bed! It just depends on the situation.
I’m sure most of us have experienced a time when we were quietly praying with a group of people and someone’s phone started ringing and totally destroyed the moment! It’s usually some funny, quirky song that just doesn’t fit. It’s hard to come back to prayer after something like that, isn’t it?
I feel like sometimes that same thing happens with our music at liturgy. The 1st Reading is proclaimed beautifully and we are left with a moment of silence until…CRASH BANG the band comes in with a loud intro to the Responsorial Psalm. Or maybe it’s the 1st Communion song that starts out way too loud and totally disturbs the liturgical setting. It’s like the really loud alarm clock or that annoying cell phone during prayer! As musicians…as liturgical musicians…we need to be aware of these things and take care to avoid them.
Playing a song sometimes means listening first. Listen to where you are in the liturgy.
It also means–and I say this as both an arranger and composer of liturgical music–you may have to ignore what is written in the music. Just because it says forte in the intro doesn’t mean you have to play it that way. That’s only one way to play it. Listen first. Is it quiet? Do you really want to start that way? Would it be better to start with one instrument instead, quietly? Or with the whole group, gently? Or maybe just voices? You figure it out. That’s what makes you the director.
Obviously, when you press PLAY on your phone to hear a song, it’s always going to sound the same. It doesn’t matter if the room is quiet or full of loud noise, you know exactly what you’re going to get. It’ll always sound the same. You can’t do anything about it! But…that’s why you are playing/performing the music ‘live’ at the liturgy. You can listen and make those adjustments to the performance of the song.
Often times at rehearsal someone in the band will ask me, “How are we going to start this?” My reply is often, “I don’t know, yet!” I’m not trying to be funny or anything, I just don’t know what the dynamic will be at the time. I like to decide on the fly sometimes. I like to read the room, read the moment, then add to that moment.